If there is such a thing as a rite of winter for Great Lakes sailors, it might be the Toronto International Boat Show. The event’s been going for over 50 years, and while it seems somewhat pared down to these eyes from previous years, reports of its demise would appear to be premature.
Due to having a variety of passes available to me, I was able to attend on several occasions, a couple of times with my 10-year-old son in tow. Attending an event where one can spend 15 minutes discussing the merits of venting diesel tanks to the cabintop instead of under the toerail is enough to make a boy grind his newly sprouted permanent teeth: I was happy to send him off to try his luck at the Trout Pond. I also opted to pay for my necessary technical blathering by taking said son to see a wakeboarding Jack Russell terrier and to admire his odd enthusiasm for a steam mop. Not cleaning with it, however. Just the “steam” part.
He actually sat still for a diesel maintenance lecture by John and Amanda Neal, cruising (and boat show) veterans who possess an admirably tidy and well-labelled engine bay.
Speaking of engines, did you know that the “companion” generator to the popular Honda eu2000i, the one that can give you 4000 watts of output, is not sold in Canada? I didn’t, and I now have a reason to cross the lake in spring. Sometimes the Boat Show is about education.
As a consequence of my son’s Zen-like patience, we spent a little more time in the “cottage” section of the Boat Show than usual. Greatly favoured were the hanging chairs, the various iterations of shammy and polish, and the pricy toy helicopters. Particularly popular was the newly invented Dock Wand produced by Tina and Luc, my cross-dock neighbours for the sailboat I share near NYC. To judge by the number of them I saw in people’s hands all over the show floor, this simple device may have been the hit of the show.
Not much more than a length of line, a plastic pole and a brightly coloured ball, the Dock Wand is, like most good ideas, simple and straightforward: One spliced end of a longish line goes to a cleat (ideally centered or forward). The other end goes to a ball used to lasso the aft cleat on a dock. That accomplished, you can drop the thing in the water: You are “on” enough to either stop in calm weather, or to give you time enough to jump off with more lines to finish securing.
I can see this as being a big help for high-freeboard sail boats, power boats and single-handers of all types. If you want to support local innovation in sailor-friendly products, you could do worse, or even worse, nothing at all.
That was the case with the talk of the show, Garhauer. Most sailors not sponsored by Lewmar, Ronstan or in the habit of cutting crew toothbrushes in half to save weight know about Garhauer, the no-frills American firm that makes durable and functional deck gear. Well, they couldn’t show this year, reportedly due to illness. The nice lady at the information booth got a little testy with me asking after the firm, as apparently forlorn middle-aged men in slightly worn foul-weather jackets were making a habit of asking where the cheap block place was this year.
While “absent” doesn’t describe sailboats at this year’s show, the march of the gigantic cabin cruisers continues. Bad economy? Not here, it seems, as someone’s buying them. By contrast, if you wanted to see some formerly familiar names among the Hunters, Jenneaus and Beneteaus, like C&C, Tartan or Island Packet, I couldn’t find them, although the prices seemed somewhat more competitive than in previous seasons.
One boat I did see that was completely out of my sphere of reference was the Footprint pontoon boat. Looking like a cross between a Star Wars spaceship and a camper-trailer, it’s either a NASCAR fan’s idea of luxury fishing or a really interesting way to get around a chain of lakes. The pontoons winch in to make it legal to trailer, and with a little fine tuning (like opening ports for the front “space helm”), it might be a hit. It was certainly attracting plenty of eyeballs.
Space is relative, they say, and that was the case at the National’s boat show booth again this year.As NYC booth volunteer Dave Stiles (Velero) commented: “We were here Monday first thing, and it was pretty slow. But the 11 to 2 shift is not prime time.” Stiles said that the questions people ask about the club largely concern the availability of docks. “The kinds of things we are trying to push, like junior sail and introductory crew, are not things people ask us about…we have to mention it to them. People who already have a boat are naturally interested in docks. People who don’t won’t often stop at a boat club booth to chat. We’re trying to change that, but we’re not there yet.”